Close to the center of Copenhagen in Denmark, there dwells a territory where roughly 850 residents live on about 85 secluded acres. Here they have their own rules, government and ideals. Pondering this before seeing it for myself, and hearing only what others had told me, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. There was one thing everyone made sure to include when speaking about it to me, “They smoke a lot of cannabis there.” There had to be more to this place.
Here and there, throughout my time in Copenhagen, whether if I was on a boat tour and the shores of Christiania could be seen, with custom buildings that towered alongside the many trees which graced their land. Some of the houses were bright, painted all sorts of colors, and others constructed in a way that looked new, if not innovative. “And to your right is an area called Christiania…it used to be a military base up until it was deserted, and then occupied by squatters in 1971, since then they have occupied the territory and built their own houses, and vote on every single decision that is to be made concerning their territory.”
Their territory, which locals of Christiania affectionately call, “The Town,” has been theirs to do whatever they want with for the last 40 years. Finding this hard to believe, I had to inquire more. I later learned from a local friend I had met that the police refused to make arrests based on the sale and consumption of cannabis, simply because they thought such an action to be ridiculous. The collective conscience of Copenhagen began to deeply fascinate me. A few members of the Danish government have tried, and still try to diminish the power of the locals of Christiania, but have failed either due to lack of favor from the public or being negated by the judicial system. However, certain violent events, prompted by rival gangs fighting over territory of ‘Pusher Street,’ (the street where vendors sell cannabis, which they smuggle from Amsterdam) such as a grenade being thrown into a crowd, an incident where several men ran into Christiana with black ski-masks and automatic weapons, and fired on a crowd, have prompted some officials to condemn the area. Still, everyone knows that these sort of people, whom are immigrants who reside in Copenhagen, wouldn’t be there attempting to seize control if cannabis was tolerated in the entire city of Copenhagen. There was also an incident where a motorcycle gang, called “Bullshit” tried seizing control of Pusher street in 1984, only to be later expelled. It was even labeled on the map, Pusher Street.
So, during my last day in Copenhagen, while out at dinner enjoying a heavy amount of Carlsberg, I asked our 20-something waitress who was heavily tattooed and very nice if visiting Christiana is worth it on a Sunday night. To my avail, the sun stays up until 11:30 at night during June.
“You must go” she said right away, “For the architecture, and the nature.” I thanked her for her help and departed. I said goodbye to my friend who I might possibly never see again, as he was on his way to Malmo, Sweden and would continue travelling until he didn’t feel the need to scratch his itch.
I proceeded to take the Metro to Christiana, which unbelievably, was only 3 stops away. I remember hearing from one local that many citizens of Copenhagen are somewhat bitter of the fact that real estate is so high in their city, but the locals of Christiana have such a prime location and don’t have to worry about paying taxes to the government, which allocated roughly 60% of each person’s earnings. This was something of a gigantic bonus.
Upon getting off the Metro, and walking 2 blocks down to the area, which I had remembered from glancing at my map earlier, I didn’t see a sign or anything like that, so I asked the next person I saw, a blonde boy who looked nearly eight and who was leisurely about to stroll by me.
“Excuse me, do you know where Christiania is?”
“Yes, its through that arch” he said while pointing in the direction I had been walking already. “Thank you.” I said and continued as I continued down the path.
The entrance of the territory was a wooden arch, and on both sides of it, trees outlined the area, which no end could be seen. I proceeded to walk through the winding path and a feeling of freedom waved over me. The everpresence of trees, and green gave me a sense of vitality. The old barracks and the main square, with a giant red flag with three yellow dots laid horizontally in the middle (the flag of Christiania) seemed so counter of each other, but showed which side prevailed. The archaic distraction of war was the old, defeated measure, whilst the free-loving people who made a stance and overtook the regime were now rooted into the land, simply by logic.
Pusher Street was the part which made everyone nervous who spoke about it, however, it looked fairly harmless. If this was the worst part, then the rest must be amazing. Before walking too far down I encountered a few stands where people were selling lighters, rolling papers, and souvenirs. The people selling these items were both old and young, and giant dobermans, pit bulls and bulldogs leisurely walked around their area with no leash or collars. Walking a few more feet down, on Pusher Street were the 5 or so stands which sold the cannabis, each stand had about 15-20 plastic bags that were about 8 inches in diamater and about a half and a half tall, each labeled with what kind of strand of cannabis it was. Bubble Gum, Purple Kush, OG Kush, and more appetizing labels were staring at me in the face. I continued walking down Pusher street to enter in the center of Christiania. On the way there I saw groups of people from two, to eight sitting in various spots, standing, all smoking and chattering with innocent sounds of laughter echoing every 15 seconds or so. Then I was upon what looked like the epicenter. There were two wooden bars where a few people were standing, ordering beers and heading back to one of the 50 picnic tables. About 40 or so were inhabited by groups of people leisurely drinking, smoking and enjoying themselves. Was this the reason why Copenhagen was such a calm city? The fact that they’re inhabitants can ‘vacation’ to secluded spot where they could unwind without the risk of an armed officer tackling them to the ground, only to late extort them for their money? It was all a mystery.
I began to sit down at a table when I noticed two guys, both in their early twenties about to sit at the table I was leaning towards. “Do you guys mind if I join you” I asked them, not really sure of what the response might be. One had two stud piercings under his mouth, and spoke eloquently and precise, while the other looked like Tre Cool from Green Day, and was also a very educated and enthusiastic patron of Christiania, just much more silent. We began talking, and enjoying the fruits of the land while they filled me in on all my unanswered questions. After about an hour of this educational experience, I realized that it’s ‘not allowed’ to run in Christiania because it makes the Pushers nervous. Taking pictures is also frowned upon for the same reasons. I didn’t see one cell phone while I was there. I also learned that underground Hip-Hop is very big in Christiania, and before I know it, Matt, the one with the piercings was bringing up names like J Dilla, Slum Village, Mos Def, and plenty of others. They were thankful for my different perception, as they communicated to me that it makes them more grateful to hear how strict the rules are in the USA. “Juicy” by Notorious BIG came on and there was something I was to be grateful for, the magnificent art and music scene that US artists have produced.
They kindly accepted my offer and gave me a tour of Christiania, we walked through and I was able to see all the different houses, music stages, where Green Day, Bad Religion, Prodigy, and many others have performed. There was a little area where plastic stacking crates were lined up and a few bottles were on the floor. “This is where the alcoholics sit and drink all day and heckle people, and sometimes throw bottles or cans at them” There had to be some pain in this region so people wouldn’t feel too euphoric. That’s the best excuse I could come up with after feeling pretty off about the effects of alcohol. This feeling was to be short lived. We came up to the forest, but at this point it was dark – “We better turn back,” one of them said, and we headed back through the way we came from.
After the 30-45 minute tour, we sat, had a few more beers, and then I bid my farewell and was heading back to the hotel. It was about midnight. After realizing the Metro was closed due to a strike from the workers, I had to learn the bus system. There were a few people waiting by the Christiania bus stop. All seemed to be in good spirits, basically like they were leaving a festival for the day, only to come back tomorrow.
A bus pulled up, it wasn’t the G-6 route, which was the one that would take me back to the hotel.
“Excuse me…Is this the G-6?” said a man wearing a plain black baseball hat, and a black jacket and jeans with a white t-shirt on, he looked to be in his mid-40’s.
I explained to him that I was heading back on that one as well, so I’d let him know. We started talking and he began telling me about his record label and recording studio he has set up in Copenhagen, and the elements of Dubstep/Electronica production. He invited me to come to his place so that I could check the recording studio out, I pondered it but was extremely exhausted and not looking forward to an early wake up call and the international airport process. The bus rolled up and we spoke about art, and he told me how he was part of an artist group in Christiania and that they make art there every day. I remembered seeing many sculptures on my tour, and thought them all to be inspiring. He told me how he used to live in Berlin, and New York City before that.
“I love this city because there’s a lot of art, it’s everywhere- you don’t have that in Chicago.” He stated in a very calm demeanor.
“Yes we do, we have plenty of art, plenty of museums.” This answer frustrated him, “I’m in a museum, the museum of modern art in New York city for a book that I worked on with Alan Ginsberg. That’s not art though, arts to be in the open.”
I silently agreed as the bus pulled to a stop. It was my stop. I kindly rejected his offer and told him I’d check out his record label’s website and e-mail him after I crossed the pond. When I returned to the US I checked out the site, dug the music, and found out that the man I was speaking to was Pete Missing, an activist, artist and poet renowned amongst the counter culture for his efforts in organizing protests in New York City among other things. He’s released over fifteen records with three different groups, heavily producing industrial music. He has been painting for the past 3 decades and has his work displayed in over 30 museums in the U.S. and Europe. He’s also had the F.B.I. raid his house in New York City after they believed that he started the Tompkins Square, NY riot in 1988. Missing claims that the F.B.I. “Realized they were dealing with an entire angry neighborhood, which fought gentrification, homelessness and homesteading rights on city owned abandoned property falling into deterioration. And at that time a government that was and is not working for the people.” Since then, he has left the US behind for Berlin, and now he calls Copenhagen his home.
Although my time was limited in the amazing commune which was Christiania, I felt a heavy impact from the general awareness and love for the pleasures in life that often inspire us. Although this place was heavy about cannabis, it had a strict “no hard drugs” policy. Even more then that, it boasted original art work and music showcases. It was a vacation for those who had become too assimilated and needed to be grounded again. Everyone was friendly and kind whom I encountered, and the sense of community was very evident. The extremely lucky encounter with a legendary activist, a true patriot of the United States, paired with the surge of life from encountering a new, peaceful culture – had me wired and looking at my homeland with a cockeyed view.